If you were to ask the CEOs of many of today’s top companies to “show you the money” like that famous scene in Jerry Maguire, they’re likely to bring out their most talented, highly trained and knowledgeable employees and then talk at length about the essential value of corporate learning. That’s right. Not their newest product, venture funding or strategic location. Instead: learning and knowledge.
That’s because today’s most dynamic companies—including a diverse range from Google and Twitter to Wegmans and REI—are deeply committed to learning. They see information sharing and an unwavering commitment to educating their employees as the catalyst for their thriving internal cultures, their intensely loyal employees, and their consistent surpassing of all measures of success.
They know that a strong commitment to a corporate learning culture is a key differentiating factor—in fact the competitive currency—that helps today’s winning companies grow and get ahead. That’s a pretty different picture from yesterday’s corporate stalwarts, who were more likely to point to things like location, capital or lack of customer choice.
Learn or die. There is no in between
Why is this? In a word—technology. That’s according to Edward Hess, author of “Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization.” Hess says that: “Today’s technological and marketplace developments necessitate faster adaptation, and adaptation requires institutional learning processes such as critical and innovative thinking, critical conversations, and experimentation.”
What can we learn from the companies of today who get this critical lesson? Who understand that the old models are broken? Who know that leaders today must be coaches and let their employees experiment—and often fail? If you look closely enough, you’ll see there’s a playbook of sorts. And you can glean critical insights about how successful companies are using corporate learning to their advantage.
Companies that learn together stay together
With the high cost of employee turnover, retaining employees is vital. Companies that invest in education and learning resources beyond onboarding are rewarded with engaged employees on a career trajectory that keeps them happy and integrated within the corporate culture.
Take UPS for example. By viewing employees as partners and instituting an employee “free agent” program that enables employees to move anywhere in the company and advance, including mentorship and training programs, UPS has a high retention rate.
Smart companies outperform their competitors
When companies make learning a part of their larger culture, the systemic benefits spiral outward and impact every single employee. Learning is contagious. Once it starts to spread, the impact is felt not only in employee satisfaction, but on a company’s bottom line.
Learning leads to engagement, which leads to performance. According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workforce Survey, engaged employees help their companies outperform their competition by 147 percent in earnings per share and enjoy a 90-percent better growth trend.
As a recent Bersin study put it, a learning culture “is one of the strongest predictors of long-term business performance.” The study further points out that enduring companies do so by “building internal talent processes which create a continuous ability to adapt.”
This competitive advantage only promises to grow more significant as the speed of business increases, digital commerce and the globalization of markets continue to expand, and the makeup of the workforce changes.
Millennials think differently, and that’s a good thing
Ongoing learning and knowledge-building are the kinds of values that our emerging millennial workers expect. They aren’t content to be hired, onboarded, and thrown in the deep end. They require a more engaged career development initiative with extensive learning and development opportunities at its core.
This rigorous pursuit of knowledge—along with new realities regarding how millennials learn, what motivates millennials in the workforce, and what they expect of their employers—should be a catalyst for a reimagining of corporate learning goals and expectations.
A smart investment
We are smack dab in the middle of the idea economy. Those with the most innovative solutions will win. But this requires a new way of thinking that sees learning as an investment with significant returns.
And, yes, bottom-line people: you will get out more out of education and learning than you spend. That’s because engagement—which more and more employees now expect—leads to increased productivity. Or, as former Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant puts it, “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” And to win in today’s workplace, you better be prepared to learn.
Ready for more? Check out our ebook "Educate to Engage: Linking Learning & Employee Engagement."